Construction workers in Nagaland deprived of basic facilities
Henlly Phom Odyuo
Dimapur, Oct. 24 (EMN): Housed in a temporary room with no walls and kitchen, Jiten lives with 10 other workers at a construction site. A makeshift bed, chullah and some clothes are the only items seen in a cramped shared space.
They have constructed a temporary washroom, which also serves as a space for washing utensils.
Migrant construction workers like Jiten are susceptible to many diseases due to lack of proper sanitation facilities and unhygienic living conditions.
‘Living at the construction site is extremely difficult but it is hard for us to rent a place,’ he told Eastern Mirror.
Construction workers can be categorised into two types — inhabitant workers and migrant workers; the latter suffer more than the others as they are away from their homes.
In Nagaland, especially in Dimapur, Kohima and the newly added districts — Niuland and Chümoukedima — most of the workers, mostly men, are from Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
For the workers from Assam, if their houses are nearby and commutable by train, bus or autorickshaw, they return home for a day or two during the weekends. For the rest, they leave only after the completion of their work.
‘However, some of us, even if our families are kilometres far away, we continue to stay here even for two-three years if we find work immediately as we cannot guarantee if we will find work back at home,’ Ranjay said, adding that they are not bothered with the poor living conditions if they are paid weekly and have food to fill their stomach.
What the law says
The contractors, who recruit the workers for public and private projects, are responsible for accommodation, transportation, payment and working conditions. Although India has the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, to regulate the employment and conditions of service of construction workers, it is ineffective.
Most of the workers and the contractors are not even aware of the Act.
“It is upon the contractors/companies to provide them with the facilities. Also due to lack of manpower, our officials are also unable to visit every construction sites to sensitise them,” a Labour officer said.
Section 34 of the Act directs employer to provide — free of charge and within the work site or as near to it as may be possible — temporary living accommodation to all building workers employed by him or her for such period as the building or other construction work is in progress. The temporary accommodation provided under sub-section (1) should have separate cooking place, bathing, washing and lavatory facilities.
Section 35 states that in every place wherein, more than 50 female building workers are ordinarily employed, there should be a suitable room or rooms for the use of children under the age of six years of such female workers. Such rooms should provide adequate accommodation; be adequately lighted and ventilated; be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition; be under the charge of women trained in the care of children and infants.
However, a visit to at least six construction sites and information gathered from few districts through virtual and telephonic mode revealed that the living condition of construction workers is being neglected.
A contractor of a private construction firm acknowledged that they cannot provide proper housing to the workers as they are mostly migrants who are there for a certain period of time and they cannot ‘afford to spend extra money on housing’.
“We do not have mechanism to provide them with housing facilities. We can provide basic amenities with food but to provide a proper house with running water is also beyond our capacity”, the contractor admitted.
A Naga construction worker, Anouk, who is currently part of a public project in a village along with his mates from his community, shared that they live in temporary tin sheds close to the construction site as they are not from the village.
Although there are no proper sanitation facilities, there is no shortage of water which makes it easier for us in keeping the area clean, he shared.
“We have partitioned the room and the kitchen so that we have our own space as we have been stationed here for almost two years,” he said, adding that their makeshift house, though not the best, has better facility than others they have seen owing to good water supply.
However, not every worker is fortunate enough to access safe and clean drinking water and hygienic living conditions, which he said are the key issues plaguing their health.
‘We are daily wage earners and we do not earn enough to be able to rent houses. Also, we move from one place to another in search of work; renting a place is not easy so we have to adjust with whatever is provided to us without any complaint as at the end of the day, we are getting paid,’ Ali, a head mistry said.
He added that the workers cannot afford to incur additional expenditure on temporary living arrangement with basic facilities so they have to accept the arrangement made by the contractors or the house owners.
Ali said that most of the workers live at the construction site as many of them are migrant workers and their living conditions are the same for both men and women.
With poorly ventilated rooms or not even four walls, it is harder for women who travel along with their husbands and children as they have to share space along with the other workers, he added.
It was revealed that there were few who moved with their families but those residing near Dimapur border commute to Dimapur for work with their husband, and children.
This story is the fourth in a series of reports on the construction sector in Nagaland as part of the Kohima Press Club-Nagaland Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (KPC-NBOCWWB) Media Fellowship 2022.